Barriers to successful adoption of novel silvicultural practices are rarely just technical in nature. Simply put, why do some forest users practice better silviculture than others? Diverse perspectives in the social sciences have been brought to bear on this question, but most efforts suffer from theoretical or methodological biases which undermine their utility for answering questions of interest to forest managers and policy-makers. The authors argue that research on silviculture practice can better serve the needs of policy-makers if it is approached more holistically and with the intention of answering clear questions about why particular users have, or have not adopted desired practices in particular situations. To illustrate this approach, this paper presents three case studies of research on tropical silviculture practice from each of Philippines, Brazilian Amazon and Mexico. Findings from these studies indicate that a variety of factors may influence whether or not silvicultural practices are adopted. These range from characteristics of the local environment and individual users (knowledge, motivation, etc.) to wider geographical, economic and political influences. Forest researchers and policy-makers will better identify key constraints and opportunities for the adoption of silvicultural practices in particular contexts if they approach research with clear questions and an interdisciplinary approach.